The line that got the biggest laugh at my screening of This Means War was not in the film. It was uttered by colleague Pete Sobczynski. The print cut out two minutes in on the line “Remember: This is a covert mission,” immediate cut to black, cue Pete shouting out, “Oh come on! It can’t be that covert!” At which point Chicago Film Critics Association President Dann Gire nominated Pete for the Roger Ebert Award for Best Witticism. He deserves to win.
So what does this moderate digression have to do with This Means War? It was one of two times I laughed – the other was a throwaway gag where one character asks why the love interest (Reese Witherspoon) is talking to that old man (Chelsea Handler).
This Means War tries to mash two genres and succeeds in making both of them boring. The first is the dreaded rom-com. In this case, a love triangle between two men and one woman. The second is action-spy-thriller, as the two men work together for the CIA. That they’re all but suspended from duty in the first five minutes of the movie is not a good sign.
Now I’m not certain, but I’m pretty sure the idea came from director McG perusing an Archie Double Digest while waiting at the checkout counter of Ralph’s. Just swap the genders of Archie, Betty, and Veronica and make the latter two work for the CIA instead of lounging around Riverdale High (though I think the CIA has probably recruited all three before).
Anyway, the CIA guys are FDR Foster (Chris Pine) and Tucker (Tom Hardy). The woman is Lauren Scott (Reese Witherspoon), a products tester for some major manufacturing conglomerate. Or something like that; I’m not sure the movie ever makes it explicit.
And then there’s Chelsea Handler as Lauren’s kooky friend Trish, who dispenses largely useless advice while talking about how much she loves drinking. I don’t really know much about Handler (though she did grace the cover of my girlfriend’s latest issue of Redbook), but if her comedy is anything like it is in the movie, it sucks.
Anywho, FDR (Is his name supposed to be a joke? They don’t make one out of it; are we to assume that a guy having four names is inherently funny? Or the fact that his initials, said out loud, would be “Feh-derf”? That’s slightly funny, I guess) and Tucker are also on the trail of an international terrorist named, uh, hold on a sec, let me bring up Wikipedia…Heinrich (Til Schweiger), who deals in something, or maybe not.
I don’t think the movie makes it clear. Or…wait…no, he’s on their trail. Or their both on each other’s trails. It doesn’t really matter; the subplot is basically meant as a mild distraction from the love triangle.
I’m going into a lot of digressions in this review mainly because there’s not a lot to say about it. The action is weak (save for a truly inspired sequence, filmed in one unbroken shot, where FDR and Tucker simultaneously and covertly bug Lauren’s apartment—nevermind the fact that there’s a number of times she would have seen them), the romance is sub-par, the comic relief isn’t funny, and the movie almost aggressively eliminates any semblance of interest.
For example, the fact that both men are seeing the same woman is made clear early on in the film, so FDR and Tucker can exploit their CIA teams to win over Lauren. Couldn’t they do a little more with that? Like have one realize that the other is dating the same woman and then using that to his advantage? Or just not have them discover it so soon?
Even still, I’m willing to suspend some disbelief in accepting that FDR and Tucker are quite possibly the two worst CIA agents since Felix Leiter’s shark-eaten lump of an arm, or that their team of experts don’t realize that all their resources have been allocated to spying on their bosses’ love interest, or that FDR and Tucker’s boss doesn’t seem to realize this, or…whatever.
I can accept that, but does McG think we’re so dumb that when Tucker’s ex-wife is introduced, we won’t immediately surmise that he’s going to end up with her and FDR ends up with Lauren? Since it’s a plot point introduced very early on, I don’t think it’s a spoiler.
Again, there’s really nothing more to say. It’s obvious that the movie’s mixing of action and romantic comedy was meant to appeal to both genders, but it goes about as far as marketer saying, “Hey, let’s mix action with a romantic comedy! You know, something that’ll appeal to both genders!”
By the way, This Means War was originally entitled Spy vs. Spy, based on the once-popular comic nestled between the pages of MAD Magazine. That someone wanted to make a movie adaptation of a page-long comic in the first place is laughable, that This Means War doesn’t even aspire to that is, sadly, not.